Beefing up BI in College Curriculums


Part of my discussion with Jim Gallo, manager of BI Partner Channels for Information Control Corp., a Columbus, Ohio-based provider of IT services that has developed a program called the Information Factory designed to attract young people to the business intelligence field and to keep BI skills in the pipeline, revolved around Gallo's opinion that BI isn't stressed enough in business curriculums for today's college students.


In working with entry-level hires fresh out of college, Gallo told me ICC found many of them had completed perhaps a single course on BI or data warehousing but rarely more than that. So ICC is working with several schools, including Ohio University, Columbus State and Ohio State's Fisher School of Business, to help them beef up their BI curriculums. When I asked him if he'd like to see other companies and perhaps BI vendors doing a similar kind of outreach to educational institutions, he told me:


... I think we're creating a leadership vacuum. If you look at industry surveys from Gartner and Forrester and those folks, BI remains a top one or top two initiative for many companies. It's one of the few areas where spending is growing. And yet we're not teaching it in our schools. We are for creating new jobs. So would I like to see it in other parts of the country? Absolutely. If there are no jobs, why would kids study it? I don't know that kids coming out of IT programs fully appreciate what BI is and how it brings together so many different skills and knowledge areas.


This theme is reiterated in a Computerworld article about a study by Barbara Wixom, an associate professor at the University of Virginia, and co-executive director of the Teradata University Network learning portal, on the challenges of training the next-generation of BI employees.


One of the study participants, Arizona State University professor Mike Goul, said he thinks some students avoid studying BI because they see it as an area ripe for outsourcing. In reality, he said (and I agree), BI is "a non-commodity skill set." (At least any BI that rises above simple reporting, and most companies have far more ambitious plans for BI than that, a point that comes out clearly in this post about a possible analytics skills shortage.)


Echoing Gallo, Hugh Watson of the University of Georgia's Terry College of Business said many schools are not providing the kinds of hands-on BI skills they need to be. While most students are familiar with Microsoft Word or Excel, their knowledge generally doesn't go much beyond that. His suggestion: Encourage finance or marketing students to minor in information systems.


Watson also spoke of the need for a blend of business and IT skills, a qualification that's becoming desirable even in such techie-tech outposts of the enterprise as the data center. Schools need to turn out grads prepared to face the myriad organizational and management challenges associated with BI rollouts, said Watson. Smart companies might look at retraining existing employees to gain desired BI skills.


Add a bent for numbers and students could position themselves as statisticians, a job Google Chief Economist Hal Varian told the New York Times will be "the sexy job" in IT in the next decade.